Challenging Behavior in Children

  • “Who are You?”
    • Behavioral children easily push our buttons and we need to try to remain as objective as possible
    • We need to consider the “filters” that impact how we view the child – our views filter through our emotions, family background, values, personality, etc.
    • We want to look for trends of behavior – document what times of the day the behavior occurs, what the child is doing when it begins, how you respond, and the child’s reaction (see attached behavior chart). Recording the information can help us find typical situations to avoid or consequences that just aren’t working.
    • Understand the circles of comfort
      • A comfortable distance between two people is important. If you’re standing too close when a child becomes agitated, it can escalate their arousal level. If you shout at them from a distance, they may not even care or listen. Every child has a different comfort level, and finding this can be beneficial.

comfort circles

  • Monitor the child’s arousal level
    • Every individual has a different baseline (or starting point) for agitation. Some people wake up in the morning with an elevated baseline and need time to calm themselves down through different strategies (such as alone time, sensory breaks, etc.). Other individuals wake up and are under-aroused and may appear out of touch with their surroundings.
      • Look for behaviors that indicate the child’s level of agitation. If you recognize and see these behaviors – help the child reduce their arousal level. This may be through simply allowing him or her to sit in a comfortable place, or rubbing his or her hands, or calming techniques like slow, controlled breathing.


  • Create a “safe” physical space
    • Children with challenging behaviors will probably have difficulty functioning in an environment that is filled with restrictions, stimulation, or even a lack of visual organization.
      • Arrange an organized play space that is not directly near high-traffic or high-noise areas (television).
      • Have a place where he or she can shut out the world – have a “break” space with comfy cushions. Think of how great building a fort was as a child (a small tent with cushions inside is a great break station)
      • The Trouble of Transitions
        • Moving from one activity to another is often the biggest challenge for difficult children. Provide verbal and visual warnings that play time is ending and dinner is beginning (“Three more minutes until dinner!”). When the transition happens remind the child that another fun activity will happen next with simple language (“First dinner, then break station time”).
        • Logical consequences
          • Obviously you cannot let a child run your house. Consequences will still be needed, but they should be related to the child’s actions, enforceable, enforced, and reasonable.
          • Avoiding power struggles is key
          • If Johnny pours water on the floor, he should clean up the mess he made, not necessarily stay in time-out for 5 minutes)
          • Do not begin a consequence that you cannot follow-through (If Erin hits her sister, she needs to get ice and a band-aid for the injury she caused).
          • Time-away instead of time-out
            • Enforcing time-out is nearly impossible with some children; however, time-away can be a positive alternative that allows everyone a chance to regain control.
            • Time-away must be enforced proactively (You see Frankie knock off toys that he and his sister are playing with. In a matter-of-fact voice, say “Frankie, those toys just aren’t working for you right now. You can try again later. Would you like to draw or watch TV right now?”)
              • This doesn’t punish or threaten, it helps regain control of the situation while also teaching the child self-regulation and anger-management skills.
              • Teach replacement strategies for common bad behavior
                • If the child continues to hit his or her brother every time he asks for a toy, we need to teach him or her an appropriate way to express his frustration. This behavior needs to be nearly as simple and easy as hitting (which is actually a really effective way to share your feelings!)
                  • Role-play difficult situations where you ask the child to use an appropriate replacement behavior (“No – I’m using this now”).



Behavior Monitoring Chart

Time/Activity Antecedent


(what led to behavior)



(what’d the child do?)



(what happened as a result of bad behavior)



(Why do you think the child acted this way?)

























































1 thought on “Behavior

  1. Pingback: Updated behavior page! | Roc School Psychology

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